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The Mendocino Bargain

In my short life I have observed Mendocino County give away some great assets. In looking back, I can find no one who can justify just what was the thinking of our great leaders in the past years.

The most talked about great give-away was Lake Mendocino. I recently attended the showing of the movie, “A River’s Last Chance.” By “reservation only,” the free Mendocino County Farm Bureau showing at Mendocino College was full. I got the last seat. An absolute must-see movie. The Eel River water originates in Lake Pillsbury. A giant man-made straw transports the water to the north end of Potter Valley through the mountain. Mendocino County is merely a hired trucker. Makes me think of Philbrick, who I have never met, but he would be my choice to be in charge of moving the water. Mendocino County moves it from the north end of Potter Valley into Lake Mendocino. Sonoma County owns 88% of it. Our leaders are now trying to get some of the water back. The problem is PG&E, which owns what is referred to as the Potter Valley Water Project. The project is best addressed by Janet Pauli, PhD. Janet is rightfully referred to as the Water Queen of Mendocino County.

The next big give-away was the State Hospital at Talmage. I have heard every excuse as to why the County did not want the hospital property. The sale was close to the time our Mendocino Community College was being formed. What a great place for a college! Excuse number one was that the property carried a stigma. Someone even suggested calling it “Nut House Tech.” Excuse number two was that the County could not afford the upkeep. Yes, maybe they needed a new roof, but the buildings were historic. Excuse number three was concern about what to do with the agriculture land. What to do with the pig farm, the dairy? Does anybody remember that there was a dairy at the hospital?

The next big give-away was the Ukiah bypass freeway. Never mind that the freeway was cutting through some of the most prime agriculture land in the world. As I remember, there was an alternate proposed route in the hills east of Ukiah. Next time you drive the bypass near Geyserville on Highway 101, take time to look at the beautiful scenery of upper Alexander Valley off to the East rather than going through prime agricultural land. 

I just cry when I take the Willits bypass, but the precedent for that give-away was set many years ago at Hopland. Probably no one misses the prime agriculture land just south of Hopland as the 101 highway crosses the railroad and the Russian River. Those fields were rich with hops and pears. Now they are overgrown with berries and brush. 

And now the state wants to remove the railroad running through Mendocino County. We just returned from an Amtrak rail trip from Davis to Reno. What a glorious trip! Up the hills, through the snow over the top, and arrive in Reno. Has anyone else looked at Lake Donner froze over. Two days later and a five hour return trip got us back in Davis, ready to return home.

Mendocino County has scenery just as glorious, along the river, through tunnels and manicured vineyards. Tourists could stop at towns and visiting historic places, adding to the economy. Not to mention trains could move freight into and out of Mendocino County. Years ago, freight was moved from Fort Bragg out of the County by rail.

Ukiah train station, built in 1929 by Northwestern Pacific Railroad (photo courtesy Ron Reiring).

Does anyone remember just a few short years ago passenger service was restored from Healdsburg to Ukiah. The train only had passenger cars and traveled slow for the benefit of the passengers to take photos. The train also contained a private passenger car owned by a local man. The train stopped at Hopland, the engine disconnected his car, and moved it to a siding right there in beautiful downtown Hopland. I got an invitation to look inside this historic classic. Later the train returned from Ukiah, hooked up his private car, and off it went on to Healdsburg. I wanted to take the first passenger train from Healdsburg to Ukiah, but my wife wanted to go a week or so later after the bugs were worked out. Well, there was no next time. The powers that be halted the passenger service for some unknown reason. 

I am told that the rails from Hopland to the first tunnel are still used by an owner of a small rail gas powered cart referred to as a “speeder.” The rails are blocked at the first tunnel south of Hopland by a fire many years ago. I hope the tunnel can be repaired.

There is a reason the railroad was built on the west side of the river. Even with the tunnels, it was the path of choice by wise men. Next time you travel from Hopland to Cloverdale observe that the 101 highway is EAST of the river. There is continuous road construction in several areas trying to stabilize the road surface. 

We do, however have a chance to revive the railroad. Once it is gone, it is gone forever and our descendants will say the same thing we are saying. “Just what were they thinking to let the railroad disappear?” I have no problem with a path next to the rails, but just get the train back on track to Willits. I support a walking or bike trail from Willits to Eureka. Let’s not be another generation that gave away part of our County.

SF&NP No. 18 had this fine portrait taken at the Ukiah roundhouse by A.O. Carpenter. Posing in his Sunday best with bowler hat is engineer George Bradley. Standing in front of the center driver is his son, Paul Bradley, clearly already enrolled in the trainman's profession with his watch chain. Paul's son the late Bill Bradley would become the third generation Bradley to work the NWP trains and an active NWPRRHS member. (Original photo in Robert J. Lee collection, Mendocino County Historical Society. Print from the Ted Wurm collection NWPRRHS.)

One Comment

  1. james marmon March 13, 2019

    “The next big give-away was the State Hospital at Talmage. I have heard every excuse as to why the County did not want the hospital property.”

    “Excuse number two was that the County could not afford the upkeep. Yes, maybe they needed a new roof, but the buildings were historic.”

    The buildings may have been historic but they were not in very good shape. I worked for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the early 80’s and I can tell you a lot about that place. the old buildings were extremely dilapidated, in a state of disrepair or ruin as a result of age or neglect. A few of the newer buildings such as the medical infirmary was build in later years and one of the few buildings that could have been utilized. The electrical, pluming, and sewer systems were in horrible condition. Most the buildings used radiator heat and giant steam room in total disrepair, I used to hide out in there to smoke cigarettes. Almost all the windows in the buildings were all single pane class and would have had to replaced, thousands of them. The amount of lead and Asbestos in those buildings would never pass today’s standards and would cost the county millions and millions of dollars to bring them into compliance. Compare the restoration cost of the “ole howard,” 15 million dollars for just one building to the dozens at Talmadge..

    I get so sick and tired of people saying “we could have had it for the college for nothing” when they have absolutely no knowledge of the facility. When the state owned it they had an army of Maintenance folks working 24/7 in order to keep it functional. I know the facts

    James Marmon MSW
    Former Maintenance Engineer (Buildings and Land)
    City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

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